David Kirkpatrick

February 4, 2011

One more thing to do this Sunday — check out the sun

Hot from the inbox:

NASA Releasing First Views of the Entire Sun on Super SUN-Day

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA will score big on super SUN-day at 11 a.m. EST, Sunday, Feb. 6, with the release online of the first complete view of the sun’s entire surface and atmosphere.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

Seeing the whole sun front and back simultaneously will enable significant advances in space weather forecasting for Earth, and improve planning for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system.

These views are the result of observations by NASA’s two Solar TErrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft. The duo are on diametrically opposite sides of the sun, 180 degrees apart. One is ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind.

Launched in October 2006, STEREO traces the flow of energy and matter from the sun to Earth. It also provides unique and revolutionary views of the sun-Earth system. The mission observed the sun in 3-D for the first time in 2007. In 2009, the twin spacecraft revealed the 3-D structure of coronal mass ejections which are violent eruptions of matter from the sun that can disrupt communications, navigation, satellites and power grids on Earth.

STEREO is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the mission, instruments and science center.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations.

The STEREO imaging and particle detecting instruments were designed and built by scientific institutions in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland.

To view the image with supporting visuals and information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/stereo

For information about NASA and other agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

SOURCE  NASA

Photo:http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photoarchive.ap.org/
NASA

Web Site: http://www.nasa.gov

April 10, 2009

NASA craft to reveal moon’s origin?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:59 am

Maybe. Cool research at any rate.

The releaes hot from the inbox:

NASA Twin Spacecraft May Reveal Secret of Moon’s Origin

GREENBELT, Md., April 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Two identical NASA spacecraft are preparing to enter a point in the universe that may eventually answer the question of how our moon was born.

(Logo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

The spacecraft duet, called Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, are nearing a zone known as the Lagrangian points. At these points, the gravity of the sun and Earth combine to form gravitational wells where asteroids and space dust tend to gather. The 18th-century mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange realized there were five such wells in the sun-Earth system. The twin probes are about to pass through two of them, named L4 and L5.

During their journey, the spacecraft will use a wide-field-of-view telescope to look for asteroids orbiting the region. Scientists will be able to identify if a dot of light is an asteroid because it will shift its position against stars in the background as it moves in its orbit.

“These points may hold small asteroids, which could be leftovers from a Mars-sized planet that formed billions of years ago,” said Michael Kaiser, STEREO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “According to Edward Belbruno and Richard Gott at Princeton University, about 4.5 billion years ago when the planets were still growing, a hypothetical world called Theia may have been nudged out of L4 or L5 by the increasing gravity of other developing planets like Venus, sending it on a collision course with Earth. The resulting impact blasted the outer layers of Theia and Earth into orbit, which eventually coalesced under their own gravity to form the moon.”

This concept is a modification of a scientific “giant impact” theory of the moon’s origin. The theory explains puzzling properties of the moon, such as its relatively small iron core. At the time of the giant impact, Theia and Earth would have been large enough to be molten, enabling heavier elements, like iron, to sink to the center to form their cores. An impact would have stripped away the outer layers of the two worlds, containing mostly lighter elements like silicon. The moon eventually formed from this material.

STEREO’S primary mission is to give three-dimensional views of space weather by observing the sun from the two points where the spacecraft are located. Images and other data are then combined for study and analysis. Space weather produces disturbances in electromagnetic fields on Earth that can induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines and causing wide-spread blackouts. It also can affect communications and navigation systems. Space weather has been recognized as causing problems with new technology since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century.

  For more information about the STEREO mission, visit:

  http://www.nasa.gov/stereo

  For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

  http://www.nasa.gov/

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
AP Archive:  http://photoarchive.ap.org/
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA
   

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

December 15, 2008

Unusual solar flare

The release:

AGU FEATURE: Solar Flare Surprise

GREENBELT, Md., Dec. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Solar flares are the most powerful explosions in the solar system. Packing a punch equal to a hundred million hydrogen bombs, they obliterate everything in their immediate vicinity. Not a single atom should remain intact.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

“We’ve detected a stream of perfectly intact hydrogen atoms shooting out of an X-class solar flare,” says Richard Mewaldt of the California Institute of Technology. “What a surprise! If we can understand how these atoms were produced, we’ll be that much closer to understanding solar flares.”

The event occurred on Dec. 5, 2006. A large sunspot rounded the sun’s eastern limb and with little warning it exploded. On the “Richter scale” of flares, which ranks X1 as a big event, the blast registered X9, making it one of the strongest flares of the past 30 years.

NASA managers braced themselves.  Such a ferocious blast usually produces a blizzard of high-energy particles dangerous to both satellites and astronauts.   An hour later they arrived, but they were not the particles researchers expected.

NASA’s twin Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft made the discovery:  “It was a burst of hydrogen atoms,” says Mewaldt.  “No other elements were present, not even helium (the sun’s second most abundant atomic species). Pure hydrogen streamed past the spacecraft for a full 90 minutes.”

Next came 30 minutes of quiet. The burst subsided and STEREO’s particle counters returned to low levels. The event seemed to be over when a second wave of particles enveloped the spacecraft. These were the “broken atoms” flares are supposed to produce — protons and heavier ions such as helium, oxygen and iron. “Better late than never,” he says.

At first, this unprecedented sequence of events baffled scientists, but now Mewaldt and colleagues believe they’re getting to the bottom of the mystery.

First, how did the hydrogen atoms resist destruction?

“They didn’t,” says Mewaldt. “We believe they began their journey to Earth in pieces, as protons and electrons. Before they escaped the sun’s atmosphere, however, some of the protons captured an electron, forming intact hydrogen atoms. The atoms left the sun in a fast, straight shot before they could be broken apart again.” (For experts: The team believes the electrons were recaptured by some combination of radiative recombination and charge exchange.)

Second, what delayed the ions?

“Simple,” says Mewaldt. “Ions are electrically charged and they feel the sun’s magnetic field. Solar magnetism deflects ions and slows their progress to Earth. Hydrogen atoms, on the other hand, are electrically neutral. They can shoot straight out of the sun without magnetic interference.”

Imagine two runners dashing for the finish line. One (the ion) is forced to run in a zig-zag pattern with zigs and zags as wide as the orbit of Mars. The other (the hydrogen atom) runs in a straight line. Who’s going to win?

“The hydrogen atoms reached Earth almost two hours before the ions,” says Mewaldt.

Mewaldt believes that all strong flares might emit hydrogen bursts, but they simply haven’t been noticed before. He’s looking forward to more X-flares now that the two STEREO spacecraft are widely separated on nearly opposite sides of the Sun. (In 2006 they were still together near Earth.) STEREO-A and -B may be able to triangulate future bursts and pinpoint the source of the hydrogen.  This would allow the team to test their ideas about the surprising phenomenon.

“All we need now,” he says, “is some solar activity.”

For more information about this research, look for the article “STEREO Observations of Energetic Neutral Atoms during the 5 December 2006 Solar Flare” by R. A. Mewaldt et al., in a future issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

  For more information and related images, visit:
  http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/flare_surprise.html

  For more information about STEREO, please visit:
  http://www.nasa.gov/stereo

Source: NASA – Goddard Space Flight Center
 Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

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